By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Kelley Barracks –a vast green forested and heavily guarded US military base in Stuttgart, Germany –is three times bigger than Makerere University main campus. It is a clean environment (no littering, no dust, just evergreen) amplified by beautifully tarmacked roads and their mandatory walkways to keep off the neatly manicured grass with the biggest number of its different types of houses here representing the 1950s architectural designs. It portrays the image of houses better than those of Uganda’s middle class instead of the mama yingiya pole-type of huts that characterize Uganda’s military barracks. The Africa Command (AFRICOM), one of the nine US commands across the world, is headquartered here.
As one drives inside the base, memoir of World War II regalia like the captured Soviet Union military tanks and the remains of the Berlin Wall that separated the East and West Germany are erected as a remainder of the ended cold war. Next to the tanks is a massive dark painted statue of Staff Sergeant Jonah E. Kelley, who is regarded in high esteem for saving American soldiers’ lives during the war. It’s from here that the recently increased US military activity on the African continent is planned and decisions made. The Kelley Barracks base houses the seat of a four-star US military General, one of the few such generals that country has. AFRICOM is tasked with developing military-to-military cooperation in tackling the continent’s security challenges and conflict as well improving skills in fighting the threat of terrorism. But also AFRICOM has been vitally involved in the NATO bombardment of Libya; planning, fueling and maintaining the NATO war planes from the 17th Air Forces Africa in Ramstein, Germany.
As a developed country and superpower military, US AFRICOM is divided into specific aspects of the military tagged with the label Africa as a distinction from the US forces with primary focus at home. The various aspects of AFRICOM include US Army Africa based in Italy, US Air Force Africa, Marine Forces Africa, and US Naval Forces Africa. All these sections of the US military maintain military cooperation with African countries’ militaries. Being an advanced country, the US military has fully fledged media outlets in form of a radio station, a daily newspaper, and television station serving the members of the US service men overseas especially those in combat areas. The US military also has a chaplaincy section devoted to the spiritual matters of the soldiers; counseling them to deal with difficult situations like war trauma. The chaplains are soldiers recruited to purposely do this work.
In its interaction with African men in uniform, US AFRICOM reminds them that the role of the military is to protect its people, respect human rights and staying clear of politics. Inculcating the value of being subordinate to civil authority in the military is another area of cooperation AFRICOM looks at.
When it was created in 2007, there were misconceptions about role and purpose of AFRICOM. Given the nasty colonial experience in African countries, many commentators thought AFRICOM was a new arm of colonialism. This was followed by animated debate on where the headquarters of AFRICOM would be located. According AFRICOM’s deputy public affairs office, Vincent Crawley, AFRICOM was created to promote security, partnership and stability on the continent. When these are achieved, says Crawley, there will be improved good governance, independent institutions to extend service delivery to Africans hence more foreign investments.
Bearing in mind that Africa’s problems like piracy, natural disasters, poor governance, corruption trafficking, rebel insurgencies, terrorism, insufficient means to confront challenges and HIV/AIDS are global security challenges it suffices to cooperate with a willing partner like AFRICOM that is ready to train the militaries to improve their capacity to respond to emergencies. But at the same time AFRICOM believes that solutions to African problems will come from Africans themselves. For example Gen. Carter Ham, in an interview, argues that whereas the people of Somalia needed to be supported in fighting the al-Shabaab insurgents it remains up to the Somalis to work with the international community to bring peace to their country. On the question of Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army, Gen. Ham says the US is assisting Uganda in providing information on the whereabouts of Kony but it is the work of the Uganda military to capture or kill him. He said the US is playing a supportive role in the hunt for the LRA rebels in DRC and Central Africa Republic.
“If anyone ever had doubts that there’s evil in this world all they have to do is look at what Joseph Kony and his group have done and in that part of the world it exists in the person of Joseph Kony,” says Gen. Ham, adding that there have been some successes and setbacks in the hunt for Kony. Gen Ham noted that the hunt for LRA leader is not going well as the US government would hope for it to be.“As you know this is a search for one man and a small number of his followers in a very large geographic area. It requires very precise information which can only come from the people in the area and Kony’s organization. I’m sure the UPDF will be successful though it may take longer.”
The US government has been rooting for the defeat of Joseph Kony providing supportive role in this mission. In the 2008 Operation Lightning Thunder the US was providing information on the whereabouts of Kony and later US Congress passed the legislation to encourage efforts in bring Kony to justice.
On Somalia, Gen Ham said a no fly zone on Somalia as Museveni requested said if the UN and AU are convinced that is important in winning the war it is a welcome idea. But he cautions that no-fly zones hardly end the wars apart from being expensive, saying that this is complicated by the long Somali coastline. Ham said the US is proud to support the AU mission in Somalia to protect the people of that country and the region from al-shabaab extremists.